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Shell changes talent mix to meet energy market challenges

Skilled recruitment continued as 7,000 people laid off

Royal Dutch Shell has continued recruiting despite laying off up to 7,000 staff in the past few years as it continuously “reprofiles” its talent mix, its HR chief HR has said.

Hugh Mitchell (right), Shell’s chief HR and corporate officer, told the Economist’s Talent Management Summit yesterday that as demand for energy increases worldwide, employers in the sector face a “phenomenal” skills challenge.

New energy demands from countries such as China and India are putting more pressure on the industry to get the right talent, he told delegates at the London event.

Mitchell predicted that China’s energy use could increase by 75 per cent by 2035, while in India demand could double.

“The renewable sector will have to grow faster than ever before and require people with skills that don’t exist today. The existing oil and gas industries will also have huge growth. The world energy challenge is also a phenomenal talent challenge,” said Mitchell.

And he added: “We have to think about how we reprofile skills in the organisation to make sure we have the right skills.”

Cutting back on recruitment for skilled posts that are “crucial to the business” in the short- to medium -term would be a “disaster” for his business, he said.

“In HR, if I’m short of HR people I can get them from other industries like retail and IT. But if I want core skills of geologists, petrologists or microbiologists, for example, when there’s demand I can’t get them from other sectors so we have to grow them,” he said.

“So there’s a premium on growing capability within the organisation.”

A team of senior HR people monitors demographic data relating to key skills and uses this information to drive development and recruitment, and move people around the world, he explained.

Shell’s talent planning is linked to long-term view of skills, looking 10 to 15 years ahead and ignoring financial cycles.

“In the past few years we have taken 7,000 people out of the business but we were increasing recruitment at the same time,” he said.

Mitchell added that the job cuts Shell had to make were decided by analysing which skills the company had in surplus, regardless of geography.

“Lose the people you can most afford to lose, no matter where they sit in the world,” he advised delegates.

However, he admitted that this strategy could be “a nightmare” when dealing with local trade unions.

Skills such as commercial acumen and project management were also high on Mitchell’s development list, as Shell shifts its emphasis towards partnership working and large scale projects.

One such major current project is the Prelude, a giant liquid natural gas processing ship.

“We need people who are smarter than the people we recruited before,” Mitchell concluded.

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